Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Walking into random underground malls can be good
Sometimes it takes a little bit of effort and patience to get a near perfect bowl of noodles. My favorite place to eat in Taipei, is a small little place that is in my opinion, the best dan dan noodles and red oil wontons. I almost regret talking about this place because I want to be greedy and have this place all to myself…and the lines of people that are also waiting for these amazing noodles. Getting there is a bit of a find; it is located in an underground mall by the Zhongxiao Dunhua station. You will walk by this place at least once and in fact, those living in Taipei may have already walked by it multiple times without even knowing it. Even if you do find the stairs that lead to these awesome noodles, awkward hesitation may get the best of you and most likely you will walk away. There is no sign at first that awe inspired noodles are here, there are random clothing shop, some weird looking coffee bar, a random dull stall, all giving off signs of unwelcomed uneasiness and your conscience is screaming for you to retreat and find food elsewhere but you must hold your ground and if you show up there after 11:30 from Tuesday to Sunday, get in line.
In the end of this uninviting underground mall is a noodle counter and has about 15 seats where people are waiting patiently for food. A man, his wife and daughter are all painstakingly and methodically preparing food. The space is the size of a newly grad kitchen and in fact, maybe even smaller. The noodle counter has exactly 3 burners and a crock pot of pork chops and eggs in soy that has been stewing for who knows how long. Jump for the food!
They open around 11:30, or whenever they feel that they are ready to begin service. The wife patiently and politely taking orders as she tallies the number of bowls of noodles and wontons for this first seating because in this small space, service is done by serving, so if you did not grab a seat before it fills up, you are SOL and going to have to wait and jealously look on as others slurp down noodles.
They have a lot of common Taiwanese noodle dishes that you would find at almost any other place, like beef noodle soup, da ja mien and of course, dan dan mien. They also have one of my favorite dishes, Szechuan red oil wontons. After the first seating places their order that is when the food starts getting made. Bowls line ever available kitchen space as each bowl is carefully spiced and seasoned awaiting noodles that are cooked to order meticulously by the proprietor. Using a spider strainer and chopsticks he fishes out a portion of noodles, gives it shake and puts them the bowl, ensuring each is perfectly portioned. Then they are finished off and given to eagerly waiting customers. While this whole process is going on, xiao tsai is being portioned out (the tofu is a winner here), Taiwan Bok coy is being washed and wontons being made all at the same time and the amount of moving seems chaotic, but then managed to work in sync, words are rarely spoken except to repeat orders. There is a Zen like state in which these three people move about and prepare orders.
|Da Ja Mien|
The beef noodle soup here is perfectly respectable, the broth is heavy on the soy and the beef is tender as well as their hot and sour noodle soup that has a savory sourness to it, perfect for the winter, or what counts as winter in Taiwan. However, it is their “dry” noodles meaning without soup that are winners here.
The da ja mien, done Taiwanese style which has a mix of ground and diced pork belly with a soy, sesame oil and white pepper mix is light compared to the Korean version and the noodles and pork are perfectly savory and salted. The main event here however, is the dan dan mien.
|Dan Dan Mien|
The Dan dan mien is like no other I have had before and it is perfectly spiced. The interplay between the tantalizing spice combination of Szechuan peppercorns and sesame paste is like no other. The splash of vinegar wakes up the taste buds and leaves you wanting more. The sauces that the noodles are dressed in are perfect consistency, a viscous state that allows the noodles to perfectly slip down your throat.
The Szechuan red oil wontons are not something to be missed and in fact, be smart and get yourself an individual order in order to prevent any conflict with your dining partner. The wontons are all handmade and every so often, around the corner of the stall, a woman appears to replace the tray of empty wontons with a tray of uniformed shaped pork and shrimp wontons. The wontons are slippery pillows and the addition of oils in the dish, a spoon is the optimal eating utensil for this. The fiery, vibrant red oil is not as spicy as it would ominously suggest and the heat only tickles your throat. The Szechuan peppercorns are showcased again and impart the main heat element and prickle the tongue. There is an underlying sweetness to this dish, that just brings it altogether and within seconds, the eight wonton order is slurped down.